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New Research: Acne Is Caused By Inflammation

Published on 
October 19, 2022

Acne isn’t fun. The skin condition affects roughly 80 percent of adolescents and can persist well into adulthood. The psychological and social impacts of acne are especially serious because it affects adolescents at a crucial period when they are developing their personalities. Peer acceptance is very important for this age group and research shows that there are strong links between physical appearance and peer status. Acne can affect:

  1. Self-esteem and body image—acne sufferers may have low self-esteem and may avoid eye contact or grow their hair long to cover their acne.
  2. Social withdrawal/relationship building—acne sufferers find it hard to form new relationships, especially with the opposite sex, due to a lack of self-confidence.
  3. Education/work—acne sufferers may refuse to go to school or work, leading to poor academic or work performance.

Historically, curing acne hasn’t been easy. Pharmaceutical treatments such as Accutane and antibiotics can be effective in reducing symptoms, but do have serious side effects and should only be used in severe cases.

Dermatologists have long believed that bacterial infection is the cause of acne; the latest research indicates, however, that bacteria may cause acne symptoms, but does not trigger the skin disorder. Based on the latest research, the most effective treatments are now targeting systemic inflammation and oxidative stress as the cause of acne.

The role of inflammation in acne

The latest research shows that inflammation plays both a primary and secondary role in the acne process.

We’re all familiar with inflammation in the later (secondary) stages of acne: pimples are red, swollen, and painful because they are rife with localized inflammation. Where does this localized inflammation come from? It is the immune system’s normal response to infection: in the case of acne, there is bacterial overgrowth in the skin pores and the immune system activates inflammation to fight off the infection. The immune system sends white blood cells to fight the infection—the accumulation of these cells causes swelling = inflammation. Infection in the skin thus produces the symptoms of acne: painful, red, swollen pimples.

acne graphic

The process to the left describes inflammation’s secondary role in the development of acne. Scientists are now focusing on the primary role of inflammation in the acne process: they now believe that inflammation triggers the entire process. That is, inflammation is the cause of acne!

New research shows that the entire acne process starts when systemic inflammation (inflammation at the cellular level) causes normal levels of sebum in hair follicles to “oxidize”. This means that inflammation damages the sebum and causes the oxygen content of the sebum to lower. Notably, inflammation isn’t the only cause of oxidation in sebum—stress, environmental toxins, and other “free radicals” can also trigger oxidation. Regardless of the source of the oxidation, the bacteria known to cause acne (p.acnes) thrive in a low-oxygen environment and start multiplying like crazy. Once the bacteria colonizes the hair follicle, infection develops and secondary inflammation develops—leading to red, round, inflamed pimples on the skin’s surface. The sequence of events goes like this: inflammation triggers oxidation that triggers a bacterial infection that then triggers a second localized inflammatory response!

What causes systemic inflammation:

Systemic inflammation can be caused by stress, poor diet (food intolerances and gastrointestinal problems), environmental factors, and underlying health disorders like auto-immune dysfunction.

If inflammation is the source of acne, how can we treat and prevent it? There are two effective ways:

  1. Lower systemic inflammation: by lowering inflammation throughout the body, it is possible to reduce sebum oxidation in skin pores/hair follicles. Reducing this oxidation ensures a less hospitable environment for the p.acnes bacteria and a lower risk for infection. In the absence of infection, there will be no secondary inflammatory response from the immune system and painful, red, swollen pimples will not develop!
  2. Increase anti-oxidants: research has shown that acne sufferers are under greater oxidative stress compared to people with healthy skin. Oxidative stress can be caused by inflammation and other factors. Oxidative stress in the skin can be reduced by increasing anti-oxidants systemically and locally on the skin. Anti-oxidants can be consumed orally (through supplements and food sources) and can also be applied topically to the skin.

What is the role of cryotherapy in the treatment of acne?

Research has shown that people with acne have higher levels of inflammatory chemicals in their blood; they also have significantly lower levels of several antioxidant nutrients compared to people with healthy skin.

Cryotherapy can effectively address both of these problems!

CoeurCryo Cryotherapy offers two cryotherapy treatments that can treat and prevent acne.

  1. Whole body cryotherapy is the brief application of very cold air to the body (from the neck down). Whole body cryotherapy is extremely anti-inflammatory—cold exposure causes vasoconstriction in all blood vessels which evacuates inflammatory markers. Once evacuated, inflammation is detoxified through the lymphatic system. Whole body cryotherapy also triggers the release of blood-borne anti-inflammatory biochemicals; these cytokines travel throughout the body, including areas that are NOT directly exposed to the cold, reducing cellular inflammation. Whole body cryotherapy is an excellent tool for reducing systemic inflammation. Whole body cryotherapy has also been shown to increase antioxidant levels in the body. By increasing anti-oxidants, oxidative stress is reduced in the skin and sebum is much less likely to be oxidized; bacterial infection in the skin pores is also less likely to occur.
  2.  CoeurCryo Cryotherapy also uses local cryotherapy to treat acne.  Local cryotherapy applies very cold air directly to acne-affected skin. The cold air causes immediate local vasoconstriction, shrinking inflamed pimples and reducing redness. Local cryotherapy (when applied to the face is called CryoFacial) reduces mild scaring, redness, swelling, and pain related to acne. There is a visible cosmetic improvement to the skin when local cryotherapy is applied.

Managing inflammation and correcting antioxidant depletion often brings much-needed relief to acne patients. Preventing local inflammation in the skin and lowering systemic inflammation in the body are the keys to clear skin. CoeurCryo Cryotherapy offers medically formulated cryotherapy treatment programs for acne. Our medical staff has designed our acne treatment program to be the most effective, efficient, and safe protocol available. We offer student discounts and a comprehensive, non-pharmaceutical approach to solving the problem of acne.

Call us at 208-449-7671.


Does the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition?


The role of the antioxidative defense system in papulopustular acne.

Tissue and blood superoxide dismutase activities and malondialdehyde levels in different clinical severities of acne vulgaris.

Oxidative stress in patients with acne vulgaris.

Superoxide dismutase and myeloperoxidase activities in polymorphonuclear leukocytes in acne vulgaris.

Erythrocyte glutathione peroxidase activity in acne vulgaris and the effect of selenium and vitamin E treatment.

Clinical implications of lipid peroxidation in acne vulgaris: old wine in new bottles.

Sebaceous gland lipids

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